4/11/2013 12:18:00 PM Sen. Franken brainstorming manufacturing hiring difficulties with those in the know
Senator Al Franken tours Wyoming Machine with owners Lori and Traci Tapani.
by DENISE MARTIN
Wyoming Machine opened its doors to U.S. Senator Al Franken and several area manufacturing leaders last week, as host site for a roundtable discussion about how best to fill the skilled labor gap in manufacturing.
Owned and operated by Lori and Traci Tapani, Wyoming Machine also hosted a student open house last fall, and bus loads of high schoolers toured the metal fabrication plant. Providing the opportunity for policymakers, students and educators to be inside a manufacturing facility is one method Lori and Traci Tapani utilize as they network to ensure the viability of the manufacturing sector. Traci Tapani told Senator Franken last week that five years ago it was difficult to get anybody interested in talking about skilled laborforce needs.
There is a role for government to play in making training programs more accessible, in funding public educational programs and even making obtaining a U.S. patent simpler, she added. One roundtable participant, Kevin Kirvida, of Rosenbauer, a local fire apparatus manufacturer, remarked that Rosenbauer employees seem to appreciate their ability to contribute to the public safety culture, and gravitate to building fire trucks partly for that reason. He said there are still issues, however, with finding enough skilled and innovative people. Other participants mentioned the need for incentives to encourage apprentice-type programs. John Norris of the Pine Technical College Foundation Board, also commented on the importance of funding industrial arts in public schools.
Sen. Franken then commented on a book he’d been reading, “How Children Succeed.” It covers the development of “character skills” like curiosity and persistence, which are key in developing successful creative careers. Franken, who serves on the Education Committee in Congress, is in the process of writing federal legislation to enhance workforce development. His goal over the spring recess was to learn about partnerships between manufacturing and the education sector and what’s working, and where connections have broken down.
In his travel around the state Franken mentioned the high school robotics regional meet he attended and that he is learning about “what will get things going” at a fundamental level. He commented that in Alexandria there’s a summer camp for youth interested in the industrial arts and technology that is well-attended. FYI... The Minnesota Dept. of Employment and Economic Development did a “Hiring Difficulties Study” recently contacting 213 employers. Data showed 15 percent of job vacancies in nine key occupations were difficult to fill because of a shortage of job candidates with skills, education or experience.
Open positions of those surveyed in the second quarter of 2012, included industrial engineering techs, CNC or computer numerical control machine operators, numeric tool and process control programmers and machinists. In 38 percent of the survey responses inability to fill positions had prevented the employer from expanding and another similar number said unfilled jobs prevent the company from meeting demand and maintaining product quality. The Hiring Difficulties Survey done last fall was the first conducted by DEED and the agency plans to do two each year. By contrast, DEED stated in its news release, the nursing field now rates at the bottom of the hard-to-fill vacancies which is due to “...the successful response of Minnesota’s post secondary educational institutions to the well documented nursing shortage over the last decade.”